US lawyer and anti-death penalty campaigner Bryan Stevenson:

A lot of support for the death penalty comes from a place of great distance from the true details of killing another human being.

If you ask people, how many of you support raping people who rape, you would find it very hard to find anyone that would support that. …

The reason why we would be hesitant to endorse it is that – what normal person would be paid to do something so compromising as raping a human being? But yet we have this idea that we can kill someone in a way that doesn’t implicate us. If it’s not right to torture someone for torture, abuse someone for abuse, rape someone for rape, then how can we think we can kill someone for killing? …

The firing squad – they go out of their way that not all the guns have real bullets, so that the marksmen can walk away thinking, I didn’t do it. But there’s still this dead body on the ground. If we feel the need to actually protect the moral misgivings of the people participating, then there is no greater evidence of what we are doing is wrong.

David Tran, a Vietnamese refugee who built the pepper empire from nothing, never trademarked the term, opening the door for others to develop their own sauce or seasoning and call it Sriracha. … Tran… doesn’t see his failure to secure a trademark as a missed opportunity. He says it’s free advertising for a company that’s never had a marketing budget. It’s unclear whether he’s losing out: Sales of the original Sriracha have grown from $60 million to $80 million in the last two years alone. … At the same time, Tran has signed licensing agreements with a handful of specialty producers such as … Pop Gourmet, which makes a Sriracha popcorn… Even with these partnerships, Tran doesn’t charge any royalty fees. All he asks is that they use his sauce and stay true to its flavor.

I like David Tran and his delicious rooster condiment.

>> Hello, how are you?

> I’m fine. How are you?

I’m also fine.

An email thread, or a 5th century manuscript by Rufinus of Aquileia? From Keith Houston’s fascinating history of quotation marks. (Spoiler: the inverted comma appears in the 16th century.)

This week’s episode of NPR’s new Invisibilia podcast is called How To Become Batman, but a better superhero analogy would be Daredevil — like the show’s subject, Daniel Kish, and unlike Batman, he is blind and uses echolocation to see. But the show isn’t really about echolocation, it’s about the devastating impact of low expectations. It should be compulsory listening for teachers.

Atomic Robo (one of my favourite comic books) is moving to a webcomic model, funded through Patreon, with everything published free online before being collected in print. The entire first volume is already available, and new pages will be added three days a week.

Oxfam predicts that this year, 1% of the world’s population will own 50% of its wealth. But what does that look like?

If you want a picture of the global 1%, a bien-pensant 50-something in a house in north London might be more accurate than a billionaire hedge fund manager.

Take this Australian language test. Here is the marking key: potato cake, bathers, Speedos, bloomers, spring onion, silverbeet, rockmelon, popper, polony, drink taps, soft drinks, pots and pints, facewasher, free dress, jumper, bindies.

Over 150 years ago a group of anonymous Japanese artists created a 34-ft long scroll titled He-Gassen (屁合戦), literally: “Fart Battle.” … There are people farting at each other. There are people farting through objects. There are people combating farts with fans. There are bags of farts being released. … So why did these artists create this scroll? Some have argued that it’s a form of social commentary depicting anti-foreigner sentiment as Japan was beginning to emerge from isolation. Others feel we try to read too much into the art and that it was created simply because farts are funny.

It’s true, they are.

Some things I enjoyed in 2014 that you might also enjoy.

Television

  • I was riveted by True Detective. Yes, it’s driven by toxic masculinities and has no actual women characters, but Harrelson and McConaughey play two broken men very well, and it absolutely nails cosmic horror.

  • In season 2, Orphan Black ratcheted up its comic-bookish elements without going off the rails. The conspiracy keeps getting deeper, and I need to know what happens next.

  • As Parks & Rec draws to a close, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has stepped up as a worthy successor. It follows the formula almost exactly, but that’s fine: it’s a good formula. Leaves me smiling every time.

  • By contrast, Detectorists is an unlikely show. A sitcom about a pair of hopeless metal detectorists whose relationships are falling apart? But it is just wonderful; perfectly sweet melancholy. (Its excellent theme song is by Johnny Flynn, whose own sitcom, Scrotal Recall, is much better than the title suggests.)

  • The Code is one of those shows that really doesn’t feel like it was made in Australia, and not just because Asher Keddie wasn’t in it. It’s gripping, tense, and beautifully shot. And most importantly for a tech-based thriller, it’s plausible. I hope we see more like this next year.

Comics

  • Imagine a D&D campaign played by a sassy women’s collective, and you’ve got Rat Queens. Most tolkienesque fantasy comics are utterly tedious. This is different.

  • The 2014 run of She-Hulk was written by a lawyer, and despite some silly legalese dropped in from time to time, it strikes a good balance between courtroom drama and punchy-punchy. It also has a bit of a crossover with that other Marvel lawyer-hero, Daredevil, who is my favourite, so.

  • Comic book release schedules are a pain in the butt. You get too slim a slice of story, and then it’s forgotten a month later when the next instalment comes along. I’ve really enjoyed 2000 AD‘s weekly schedule, there’s a good mix of stories, and it has a British flavour that sets it apart.

  • Questionable Content brings the feels.

  • Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona was completed this year. I can’t wait for the chance to buy a hard copy. It’s an excellent story about a shapeshifter who befriends a supervillain with a heart of gold. The blend of scifi and fantasy is just right, and the art is glorious.

Breakfasts

Cartoons

  • One of my students encouraged me to watch Steins;Gate, and she was right. It’s a very convoluted time travel story, which weaves in the real-life hoax/art project/mentally ill ramblings of John Titor. (You must watch the subtitled version; I tried watching an episode of the English dub, but Okarin’s voice — and even more so his megalomaniacal laugh — is just wrong.)

  • Although Sword Art Online is a bit hit-and-miss, I really liked the Gun Gale Online arc (season 2, episodes 1-14). Video game action mashed up with a murder mystery. Just fun.

  • Steven Universe is about a kid who wants to be part of a superhero team but can’t control his power, and also he is a lovable dork and I love him.

  • Two Books seasons of The Legend of Korra this year, and I think seeing it without a long break in the middle really emphasised how well they developed characters over time. (Korrasami is the ultimate expression of that.) The fight scenes in season 4 were especially good, really dynamic and cinematic.

  • Imagine Back to the Future on acid, and you’ve got Rick & Morty. It’s a mish-mash of scifi tropes, absolutely NSFW, and very funny. “Where are my testicles, Summer?”

Games

  • I played and ran a fair bit of Torchbearer this year, thanks to Roll20 and Google Hangouts, which make it really easy to pull a game together with whoever’s available from around the world. Looking forward to more in the new year.

  • Two Dots is my time-killer. It’s a simple colour-matching game, but has enough variation to keep it challenging. Thanks to the drip-feed of extra levels, I’m still playing it months later.

  • The art in The Banner Saga is gorgeous, the characters are compelling, and it builds a real sense of impending doom as the caravans move across the map. It’s part RPG, part resource-management, and part turn-based tactical combat, which keeps it interesting. Play it.

  • I’ve always shied away from miniatures games given the up-front cost, the time commitment required to paint them, and the complexity of the rules. Star Wars X-Wing solves all of those problems: a cheap starter set, beautiful pre-painted models, and simple rules that nevertheless allow for interesting tactics and scenarios. Pew pew pew!

  • I’ve just started playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds on the New 3DS, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Happy new year.

On the first of January 2002 new banknotes were introduced in Europe. In addition to windows and gateways, these seven banknotes also depict several bridges. … However, the bridges portrayed in the banknotes are fictional.

They have been designed to prevent one single member state from having a bridge on their banknote opposed to other states not having any depicted in theirs. In other words, “member state neutral” banknotes.

They were fictional bridges, that is, until a Dutch municipal council decided to troll the European Central Bank by building all seven around a new housing development.

Falsely Shouting Fire in a Theater: How a Forgotten Labor Struggle Became a National Obsession and Emblem of Our Constitutional Faith:

Why, after all, might Holmes have remembered and reached back to an incident from the nation’s bitter labor history to describe an equally bitter conflict over war and peace?

Perhaps it is because there is an intimate connection between public safety and private authority. A safe and secure nation, many believe, is publicly united—and privately obedient. Workers submit to employers, wives to husbands, slaves to masters, the powerless to the powerful. A safe and secure nation is built on these ladders of obedience, in its families, factories, and fields. Shake those ladders and you threaten the nation. Stop people from shaking them and you protect it. …

“Men feared witches and burned women,” wrote Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California. That’s true, but men also feared women and burned witches.

Tracey Thorn:

The true reward of making a Christmas album lies in becoming part of people’s annual traditions. I released Tinsel and Lights in 2012, so this will be its third outing on the festive turntable, and I am already getting tweets telling me that it has been fetched out of the box in the loft, along with the actual tinsel – all scruffy with bits of Sellotape that fixed it to someone’s bedroom wall last year.

I’ve never made a Christmas album, but I do share a Christmas mix every year, and a few people have complained that it’s late this year, so that’s nice. (Here it is.) I enjoy the process of digging up new versions of old favourites, and finding a few nice ones in the deluge of dross. Sadly, this year Suburban Sprawl quit publishing their usual holiday sampler. Fortunately, you can still listen to the archive, including my all-time favourite Christmas song, Will Yates’ Third-Grader Confronting the Possibility that Santa Doesn’t Exist.

Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies:

“101 Dalmatians”
A wealthy woman attempts to do her impoverished school friend Anita a favor by purchasing some of her many dogs and putting them to sensible use. Her generosity is repulsed at every turn, and Anita foolishly and irresponsibly begins acquiring even more animals, none of which are used to make a practical winter coat. Altruism is pointless. So are dogs. A cat is a far more sensible pet. A cat is objectively valuable. —No stars.

Reverse engineering the Beatles:

The mathematical tale of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Chord is a tale of 18th century mathematicians, the study of heat, Karaoke tricks and a measure of luck.

Waleed Aly on the Martin Place tragedy:

There is only a man, a gun and a flag. The man and the gun we’ve seen before. Indeed, we’ve seen it horrifically often: in Belgium just hours after Martin Place; at Port Arthur. But the flag – that changes things. It lends this the apocalyptic timbre that drives us so mad. It’s the thing in this episode that does the least damage – and the most.

At last, America learns how to make a decent coffee… But this line: “a macchiato is kind of a latte in reverse, with the espresso added to the milk” is dead wrong. That is an abomination.

For example, in Western Australia, this is almost always a double shot latte. If you serve the drink this way, the majority of your customers will get what they want, though you’re always going to disappoint a few.

The easiest way to take an order for a long macc in [Western] Australia is to ask the customer whether they would like it topped up. If the customer gives you a weird look, you might predict that they are after something completely different…

Let’s look at a macchiato. It’s an Italian word meaning stain or mark. Keeping in mind the huge espresso drinking culture in Italy, it’s safe to translate that a macchiato is an espresso with a little bit (stain) of milk. How much milk? Hmmm, well, I would say a dash. Some might say a splash, cold, warm, spoonful, foamy — it’s open to interpretation, it’s basically just a little bit of milk. My preference is a dash of hot milk, which smoothes out any edge to the espresso and adds a bit of body and sweetness.

Fortunately, that seems to be a problem specific to WA. Since moving to Melbourne I’ve never been asked about “topping up” a macchiato — t’othersiders just make it properly, with a stain of milk.

I get email that’s meant for two other Robert Corrs who think my email address is theirs. One is in Dublin and racks up a lot of toll road infringements; the other is in Texas and buys a lot of hardware. I’m just glad my surname’s not Smith…

The house contained what, in the end, was said to have been more than a hundred and seventy tons of debris. There were toys, bicycles, guns, chandeliers, tapestries, thousands of books, fourteen grand pianos, an organ, the chassis of a Model T Ford, and Dr. Collyer’s canoe… the rooms were packed almost to the ceilings, but the mass, like a Swiss cheese, was pierced by tunnels, which Langley had equipped with booby traps to foil burglars. It was in one of those tunnels that his corpse, partly eaten by rats, was finally discovered…

We’re moving house, and packing feels like this.

It’s hard to disagree with Julian Burnside, who says “Australia appears to have abandoned its commitment to the [Refugee] convention, without actually withdrawing from it”. He points out that three word slogans hide the true brutality of Australian policy:

They say they have stopped the boats. That is largely true; with a couple of exceptions, boats have stopped arriving. But we know they have not stopped setting out from Indonesia. We have been pushing them back. We are not allowed to know how many have drowned on those boats. It is an “on-water matter”, and so remains a secret.

This is not merely a lawyer’s hypothetical. It is something that has been specifically alleged by one of Scott Morrison’s naval officers:

She said the captains of naval ships were told not to board asylum seeker vessels until they were in Australian waters, and the crews and passengers were then subject to Australian migration law.

She claims that on at least one occasion, an asylum seeker vessel sank as a result.

“In the incident that I’ve described where the boat overturned and people died, that pressure came from Canberra,” she said.

Of course, that was buried in a story about sailors’ mental health. Refugee deaths aren’t important enough for their own news coverage.

QFT:

Our courts and juries aren’t impartial arbiters—they exist inside society, not outside of it—and they can only provide as much justice as society is willing to give.

A Brief History of Graphics is a an interesting documentary series. It’s as simple as a narrator talking over a montage of gameplay footage, and it’s interesting to watch the evolution unfold. My one complaint is that it becomes a bit of a chronology of game titles, with no sense of the people who created the graphics. By contrast, Diggin’ in the Carts uses interviews with composers and musicians to give a real sense of the social and cultural influences and impacts of video game music.

Ursula K Le Guin accepts a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (transcript):

We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. … We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

Liam Hogan writes persuasively on the popularity of light rail:

Trams are a physical symbol of specific kinds of local and state/territory government policy: long-term, because of rail’s inflexibility; developmentalist, because the economics demands it; environmentalist, because they run on electricity; and pump-priming in a Keynesian way that, unlike the shiny vehicles themselves, has for 30 years been distinctly unfashionable. We argue about light rail against buses, against cars, and against an infinite number of other modes.

All the engineering and economic assessment will not change the fundamental argument, though: it’s about imagination, and permanence, and commitment by the state to urban areas.

The same goes for big road projects, like the East-West Link, which is clearly not about the economics or the Government wouldn’t be hiding the independent analysis it commissioned. Just like trams, it’s about a specific vision for the future of Melbourne’s urban environment.

…by definition this case is “out of the ordinary”. Indeed it is at the extreme limits of what is “out of the ordinary”.

This is an incredible case: a lawyer pretended to work for his client for three years, fabricating letters and file notes and court orders, pretending to brief a QC, and even faking transcript of a court hearing. Three years! Read the judgment from [12] to [105] to see just how intricate his imaginary litigation was.

Chris Maisano remembers the days of full employment:

In one telling anecdote from the period, an assembly-line worker at GM who skipped work nearly every Monday is confronted by his foreman. When asked why he only worked four days a week, the worker replied: “Because I can’t make a living working three days.” Who would have the audacity to say that today?

These days we can’t even knock off when we’re supposed to: “The average full-time worker is doing six hours of unpaid overtime each week”. Happy Go Home on Time Day.

Last week the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs declared that pre-1788 Australia was “nothing but bush”, and the European arrivals “must have thought they’d come almost to the Moon”. Unfortunately it seems history education at VCE level is taking a similar approach, as Elizabeth Muldoon and Gary Foley point out:

Koorie [H]istory will be cut due to declining enrolments. This leaves the one-year Australian history course as the only way for Victorian students to study Australian indigenous history in their final two years of secondary school. …

Other aspects of the [Australian History] study design that erase indigenous perspectives from Australian history include its timeframe. Although there is no shortage of historical scholarship and indigenous knowledge of pre-1788 Australia, it presents Australian history as beginning with British invasion.

Also concerning is its use of the euphemism “settlement” to stand for “colonisation” or “invasion”.

Muldoon and Foley have previously criticised the K-10 Australian Curriculum for its poor treatment of Indigenous histories.

I’m enjoying Space Age on the iPad. Elevator pitch: an old-fashioned adventure game; Zelda meets The Dig.

Inspired by Virginia’s new blog, Articulint, I’ve decided to start blogging again. Let’s see how long it lasts.